In a campaign driven mainly by Himself Personally Now, London’s occasional mayor and regular collector of “chicken feed” from the Maily Telegraph Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has stepped up his attempt to bring credibility to proposals for a new London airport somewhere in the Thames estuary, mainly via the paper that bungs him £250,000 a year for a weekly column of poorly researched punditry.
So it was no surprise to see a piece in the Telegraph under the by-line of James Orr asserting that this new airport “could be built in six years”, along with a video of Bozza saying how jolly wonderful it would be, and the clear suggestion that the cost – anywhere between £40 billion and £60 billion – should not be a worry, as sovereign wealth funds would magically materialise and sign the cheques.
To be fair, Orr did at least mention the problem of the SS Richard Montgomery, but this was more than outweighed by Bozza telling a suitably outrageous whopper about airport ownership in the UK: “Let me point out to you that every airport in this country, like ... Heathrow, is privately owned”. This is total bullshit, but then, facts were never Johnson’s forte.
Starting on the periphery of the capital, London’s Luton Airport is owned by Luton Borough Council, although it is operated and managed by a private consortium under a concession agreement. Moving up the M1, Birmingham Airport was developed by local Government, which retains a 49% stake. Over in Norfolk, Norwich Airport was developed likewise. Local authorities retain a 19.9% interest.
In the North East, local authorities retain a majority share of 51% in Newcastle Airport. But the most significant demonstration of how wrong Bozza is on this one is Manchester Airports Group (MAG), which is owned by the ten local authorities of Greater Manchester (Manchester 55%, all others 5% each), and which owns Manchester, East Midlands, Bournemouth, and Humberside Airports.
As the blurb points out, MAG is “the UK’s largest British-owned airport operator”. And the point here is straightforward: whatever the current management structure and ownership, it was local Government, and national Government agencies (like the RAF), that built and developed most of the country’s airport capacity. Bristol and Leeds Bradford, although now privately owned, were local Government developed.
And to that can be added the portfolio of Peel Airports – Liverpool (local Government), Teesside, and Doncaster (RAF). It was thus with Heathrow: the idea that the private sector miraculously appears and constructs major airports without significant Government assistance and participation does not stand serious analysis. Boris Johnson is peddling a seriously misleading message.
Which is another reason to treat his proposal with extreme caution.